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To read comments to this article, go here
RMS on SCO
Thursday, January 06 2005 @ 09:52 AM EST

There is an interview with Richard Stallman on Kerneltrap. You've got to love an interview that begins like this:

Richard Stallman: I first read manuals and wrote programs on paper in 1962 or so. 1969 was when I first saw and used a real computer.

JA: What types of programs were you writing prior to actually seeing and using a real computer?

Richard Stallman: They were pretty trivial, like things to add up a vector of numbers. About the time I first started with a real computer I designed a computer language based on string substitution. In some ways like SNOBOL, although I'd never used SNOBOL.

He does talk a bit about SCO.

And this is what he says:

JA: How do you react to SCO's recent accusations about the Linux kernel?

Richard Stallman: The vague and cagey nature of their statements, coupled with having seen that the only specific facts they produced proved to be false, suggests they have no real case.

JA: What impact do you expect this to have on free software?

Richard Stallman: I don't expect it to have a big impact because I don't think they have a case. They're trying to create FUD and they may scare some timid people off.

JA: Do you expect this to bring the GPL into the courtroom?

Richard Stallman: I don't know.

JA: Is that a concern for you?

Richard Stallman: We think the GPL will stand up in court, but no wise person is eager to get into a battle, even if he thinks he's well enough armed that he'd probably win.

The arguments that SCO have been making are so laughably absurd that they lend support to the idea that SCO has no real case, that they're only interested in creating FUD.

JA: To what end?

Richard Stallman: They hope some companies will pay them money, and Microsoft already did.

To people who know almost nothing about copyright law, anything sounds as plausible as anything else. When they hear what SCO says, they don't know how ridiculous it is. So they think, "SCO says this, IBM says that, how do I know who's right?"

JA: What's in store for the GNU General Public License (GPL)? Are there plans for a version 3?

Richard Stallman: Yes, but we are not really sure what will change. What we can say is that the changes will be details.

It's the "how do I know who's right?" part that gave birth to Groklaw. Our goal is to educate people, by providing them with factual information and links to legal resources explaining things like copyright law, so they can determine in their own minds who is right.

On the GPL, I gather the next version will be a tweak, not an overhaul. Richard talks about many more important things, like freedom and problems he sees but does not currently know how to solve unless you help out. Here is my favorite reaction to the interview so far, on Folley.net.

Getting people to think is what rms does. I enjoy thinking, and I don't have to agree with everything someone says to appreciate being given an opportunity to think a matter through, and if I respect a person, I listen with an open and accepting heart, even on matters where I don't see eye-to-eye. Anyone who could come up with the GPL has earned my respect, and I respect Richard's honesty and his willingness to sacrifice and to persist at something that he feels is more important than his own comfort or preferences. He says, "I've learned something that a lot of people could usefully know: how to be extremely persistent and whenever one avenue was blocked find another." I also respect his thinking big back in the 80s, his identifying a problem and saying, "I'll do what *I* can to change that even though I can't see how I can succeed", because without him, GNU/Linux wouldn't exist, and I love the software. So I enjoyed the article, and I'll be thinking about what he says.

I had a computer die on me recently, my old Windows 98 box. The CD drive died, and a couple of other things started causing issues, and it's such an old computer, and I've opened it up and swapped things in and out so many times over the years it's kind of not all in one piece any more, the cover being not quite flush when you close it, and all in all, I decided I'd look into buying a new one.

I found out that you can't buy a Windows 2000 computer any more. Microsoft won't let companies sell you one. It has to be XP. Have you ever read the EULA for XP Home? It's absolutely terrifying. You must activate your license -- they call it "Mandatory Activation" -- by either connecting to Microsoft, so they can record you, or you must call them and give them your information over the phone:

1.2 Mandatory Activation. The license rights granted under this EULA are limited to the first thirty (30) days after you first install the Software unless you supply information required to activate your licensed copy in the manner described during the setup sequence of the Software. You can activate the Software through the use of the Internet or telephone; toll charges may apply. You may also need to reactivate the Software if you modify your computer hardware or alter the Software. There are technological measures in this Software that are designed to prevent unlicensed use of the Software. Microsoft will use those measures to confirm you have a legally licensed copy of the Software. If you are not using a licensed copy of the Software, you are not allowed to install the Software or future Software updates. Microsoft will not collect any personally identifiable information from your Workstation Computer during this process.

Then, the machine periodically checks, presumably to verify you still are who you say you are and you haven't changed your software or hardware and that you aren't violating someone's copyright, and to automatically upgrade the DRM. Microsoft requires that you accept that they download to your computer lists of "revoked" software, so your ability to access certain content is by permission only:

2.1 Digital Rights Management. Content providers are using the digital rights management technology contained in this Software ("DRM") to protect the integrity of their content ( "Secure Content") so that their intellectual property, including copyright, in such content is not misappropriated. Portions of this Software and third party applications such as media players use DRM to play Secure Content ("DRM Software"). If the DRM Software's security has been compromised, owners of Secure Content ("Secure Content Owners") may request that Microsoft revoke the DRM Software's right to copy, display and/or play Secure Content. Revocation does not alter the DRM Software's ability to play unprotected content. A list of revoked DRM Software is sent to your computer whenever you download a license for Secure Content from the Internet. You therefore agree that Microsoft may, in conjunction with such license, also download revocation lists onto your computer on behalf of Secure Content Owners. Microsoft will not retrieve any personally identifiable information, or any other information, from your computer by downloading such revocation lists. Secure Content Owners may also require you to upgrade some of the DRM components in this Software ("DRM Upgrades") before accessing their content. When you attempt to play such content, Microsoft DRM Software will notify you that a DRM Upgrade is required and then ask for your consent before the DRM Upgrade is downloaded. Third party DRM Software may do the same. If you decline the upgrade, you will not be able to access content that requires the DRM Upgrade; however, you will still be able to access unprotected content and Secure Content that does not require the upgrade.

Those "technological measures" mean if you don't play ball, you can't use your computer any more with that software. And you'd best plan ahead, because otherwise you may find it difficult to work with your own documents you were foolish enough to place on such a computer. If you do change either your software or your hardware, you have to reactivate your license by letting Microsoft know that you are making the changes and getting authorization. If you fail to do so, your computer will essentially freeze up. And don't think you can hide:

2.3 Internet-Based Services Components. The Software contains components that enable and facilitate the use of certain Internet-based services. You acknowledge and agree that Microsoft may automatically check the version of the Software and/or its components that you are utilizing and may provide upgrades or fixes to the Software that will be automatically downloaded to your Workstation Computer.

Automatic downloads from Microsoft to my computer? I wouldn't let anyone automatically download anything to my computer except God himself. And what do they do with all the data they collect from you? Heaven only knows what exactly this means:

6. CONSENT TO USE OF DATA. You agree that Microsoft and its affiliates may collect and use technical information gathered as part of the product support services provided to you, if any, related to the Software. Microsoft may use this information solely to improve our products or to provide customized services or technologies to you and will not disclose this information in a form that personally identifies you.

Please understand when I say that I am not interested in "customized services" from a company that would write a EULA like this. There is an interview today, in which Bill Gates talks about helping the user by doing things like automatic updates, and if you wish to read his viewpoint, it's here. (Warning: he says that those who are "clamoring" for reform of the IP laws are "some new modern day sort of communists". Note to lawyers: he also says the company has many internal blogs "where people are completely open about what's going on with this, what's going on with that". Note to those who think Microsoft has changed, Gates on Firefox: "In terms of our agility to do things on the browser, people who underestimated us there in the past lived to regret that." )

When you upgrade, you must qualify to do so and after you do, you are no longer licensed to use the original software:

9. UPGRADES. To use Software identified as an upgrade, you must first be licensed for the software identified by Microsoft as eligible for the upgrade. After upgrading, you may no longer use the software that formed the basis for your upgrade eligibility.

The computer doesn't actually come with CDs. If you say yes to the EULA, then they walk you through a process whereby you can make restore CDs, but there isn't any clue before you start that they will be asking you to put in a blank CD, so I bet lots of people just skip that part and end up with no restoration capabilities. I didn't experience that part, of course, because I'd never get past the "I agree" part, but that is what the salesperson told me when I asked. You can transfer the software to another computer, but only if you destroy it on the first computer. And if you are bad?

14. TERMINATION. Without prejudice to any other rights, Microsoft may terminate this EULA if you fail to comply with the terms and conditions of this EULA. In such event, you must destroy all copies of the Software and all of its component parts.

What if their software is bad and causes you a lot of harm?

18. LIMITATION OF LIABILITY AND REMEDIES. Notwithstanding any damages that you might incur for any reason whatsoever (including, without limitation, all damages referenced herein and all direct or general damages in contract or anything else), the entire liability of Microsoft and any of its suppliers under any provision of this EULA and your exclusive remedy hereunder (except for any remedy of repair or replacement elected by Microsoft with respect to any breach of the Limited Warranty) shall be limited to the greater of the actual damages you incur in reasonable reliance on the Software up to the amount actually paid by you for the Software or US$5.00. The foregoing limitations, exclusions and disclaimers (including Sections 15, 16 and 17) shall apply to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law, even if any remedy fails its essential purpose.

OK, *now* tell me Richard is extreme. The extremists are in Redmond, and why anyone would say yes to such terms is simply beyond my comprehension. I found out that if you have ten computers, you can buy a corporate license and escape these terms, but I don't have 10 computers, and XP Pro is slightly better than the Home edition.

Obviously, I didn't want such a computer in my house and I let the company I was thinking of buying from know why, not that they probably understood or cared. They told me my concerns were "unusual". Are the rest of you not reading the EULAs and letting companies know how you feel? Perhaps we should think about educating folks a bit better.

That was yesterday. Today I read Richard's interview, and I do understand better what he means when he talks about computers and software that wishes to dominate you:

"A non-free program systematically denies the users the freedom to cooperate; it is the basis of an antisocial scheme to dominate people. The program is available lawfully only to those who will surrender their freedom."

Just as a contrast, here is what you can do with software under the GPL if you are a mere user, not a developer:

  • you may use it in any way you like and no one will be asking you about it
  • you can copy it and put it on as many machines as you like
  • you can loan it to a friend
  • you can share it, by, say, putting it on your mom's computer

Here's what the software doesn't do to you:

  • it doesn't frisk your computer
  • there is no activation
  • it doesn't track you or collect data about you
  • it isn't spyware
  • it won't stop working due to technological controls
  • it never terminates your right to use it

Freedom comes with responsibilities, of course. I wouldn't dream of accessing someone's copyrighted content without their permission, and those who do cause folks like the RIAA to go beserk and Microsoft to come up with EULAs like this. If any of you haven't thought of it that way, I hope you will.

Microsoft, they say, will be selling spyware removal tools soon. There is a beta release already. Now there's a business plan. Create software that is apparently helpless against malware and then sell a malware solution. I suggest we think about defining that term "spyware" a bit more broadly. If, like me, you decide that spyware includes software that comes with terms as outlined by the XP EULA, you may conclude, as I did, that your spyware removal tool of choice is switching to GNU/Linux. And hey, it's totally free. That's free as in speech. And incidentally, beer too.


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